In a freshly unveiled interview with Bob Woodward, a recently deceased former president shares his doubts about the war in Iraq and the judgment of former staffers Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. But my favorite part is the portrait of Henry Kissinger, a "super secretary of state" who comes across as supersensitive, superinsecure, and superwhiny:
Most challenging of all, as Ford recalled, was Henry A. Kissinger, who was both secretary of state and national security adviser and had what Ford said was "the thinnest skin of any public figure I ever knew."
"I think he was a super secretary of state," Ford said, "but Henry in his mind never made a mistake, so whatever policies there were that he implemented, in retrospect he would defend."
In 1975, Ford decided to relieve Kissinger of his national security title. "Why Nixon gave Henry both secretary of state and head of the NSC, I never understood," Ford said. "Except he was a great supporter of Kissinger. Period." But Ford viewed Kissinger's dual roles as a conflict of interest that weakened the administration's ability to fully air policy debates. "They were supposed to check on one another."
That same year, Ford also decided to fire Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger and replace him with Rumsfeld, who was then Ford's White House chief of staff. Ford recalled that he then used that decision to go to Kissinger and say, "I'm making a change at the secretary of defense, and I expect you to be a team player and work with me on this" by giving up the post of security adviser.
Kissinger was not happy. "Mr. President, the press will misunderstand this," Ford recalled Kissinger telling him. "They'll write that I'm being demoted by taking away half of my job."…
Kissinger remained a challenge for Ford. He regularly threatened to resign, the former president recalled. "Over the weekend, any one of 50 weekends, the press would be all over him, giving him unshirted hell. Monday morning he would come in and say, 'I'm offering my resignation.' Just between Henry and me. And I would literally hold his hand. 'Now, Henry, you've got the nation's future in your hands and you can't leave us now.' Henry publicly was a gruff, hard-nosed, German-born diplomat, but he had the thinnest skin of any public figure I ever knew."
Ford added, "Any criticism in the press drove him crazy." Kissinger would come in and say: "I've got to resign. I can't stand this kind of unfair criticism." Such threats were routine, Ford said. "I often thought, maybe I should say: 'Okay, Henry. Goodbye,' " Ford said, laughing. "But I never got around to that."